Tag Archives: Christianity

My marching orders

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, wrote:

People say, “The Church ought to give us a lead.” That is true if they mean it in the right way, but false if they mean it in the wrong way. By the Church they ought to mean the whole body of practicing Christians. And when they say that the Church should give us a lead, they ought to mean that some Christians- those who happen to have the right talents- should be economists and statesmen, and that all economists and statesmen should be Christians, and that their whole efforts in politics and economics should be directed to putting “Do as you would be done by” into action.

That’s what I’m trying to do here.

Open Borders Questionnare: Nathan Smith’s answers

This post is intended to initiate a “tournament” in which regular bloggers at Open Borders: The Case as well as guest bloggers will answer a brief but challenging questionnaire. Unsolicited submissions will be considered for publication, and not only from those of the pro-open-borders persuasion, though they should meet the high standards of rigor, with regards to facts, logic, and moral sincerity, which Open Borders: The Case tries to maintain. There is no particular time limit for submissions, which will be posted as they are received/approved.

The questions are:

1. How might the world move to open borders? Describe the most realistic process by which we might get from here to there over the next thirty to fifty years. What are the odds of this happening? And by the way, clarify what you mean by open borders.

2. Are you in favor of open borders? Why or why not?

3. How do you think open borders would affect people currently living in developing countries?

4. And how do you think developed countries would be affected by open borders?

5. What are the political ramifications of open borders, e.g., for national sovereignty, social solidarity, and global governance?

6. What is the meta-ethical standpoint from which you evaluate the issue of open borders?

Think about how you would answer these questions. Here are my answers.

1. How might the world move to open borders? Describe the most realistic process by which we might get from here to there over the next thirty to fifty years. What are the odds of this happening? And by the way, clarify what you mean by open borders.

I envision a convergence of several processes. Though for convenience I’ll sometimes use the future tense in the projections below, I’d actually place the odds that we’ll get to (approximate) open borders in the next half-century at no better than 20% or so. I’d say it’s more likely than not that at least some of the trends below will cause immigration laws to be somewhat more open, and immigration restrictions to be seen as somewhat less morally legitimate. By “open borders,” I mean that a large majority of people will be able to move at will to a large majority of places, weighted by area, GDP, or population, to live and work, subject at most to slight fees ex ante and modest surtaxes ex post, and enjoying ordinary protection of their rights– but I do not include protection against private discrimination under this heading– upon arrival. Continue reading “Open Borders Questionnare: Nathan Smith’s answers” »

Christianity vs. citizenism

In my most recent post, I wrote the following passage:

I am certainly no citizenist myself. In fact, for purposes of the present post, I’d rather not admit what my attitude to citizenism as a meta-ethics is, because it would set quite the wrong tone. However, I feel I have to mention it in passing, because if I were to write a post on citizenism without mentioning it, I might seem to convey, implicitly, an attitude of moral tolerance for what ought not to be morally tolerated. So I’ll say it: I believe, for the record, that a thorough-going, principled citizenism is appallingly wicked, and diametrically opposed to Christianity, and that practitioners of a citizenist meta-ethics are in danger of hellfire. You see why, if I’m right, I felt the need to warn you.

On second thought, I should probably offer more explanation here. Of course, I am writing primarily to Christians here. Atheists (and people of other religious persuasions) don’t believe in hellfire (or have completely different guidelines for what deserves hellfire), and in that sense, they are just spectators for this post, although if they want to ask questions, everyone is welcome. This post is by way of clarification.

First, while it may sound like an insult to say “practitioners of citizenist meta-ethics are in danger of hellfire,” the point is not to insult anyone, still less to engage in careless and hyperbolic rhetoric to compel people to accept my point of view, but to state what I believe (tentatively, and with a great deal of qualification) to be a fact about what will happen to people as a consequence of certain attitudes and, especially, of certain actions.

Second, the phrase “practitioners of a citizenist meta-ethics” needs unpacking. I didn’t say “believers” in a citizenist meta-ethics because in the scheme of salvation I don’t think that abstract or ideological beliefs matter that much. If a US resident and citizen imbibes from the surrounding environment the notion that one should only care about the welfare of one’s countrymen, but all the people in his town are citizens, and he treats them very well, his indifference to the well-being of people he’s never met and whose lives he doesn’t consciously impact at all will probably have little impact on the state of his soul. If people actually meet foreigners, or consciously do things that affect them, and ignore the foreigners’ well-being, that’s where the danger lies.

Third, there is a difference between citizenism as a personal meta-ethics and citizenism as a political meta-ethics. Sorry for the jargon. What I mean is that there’s a difference between saying (a) “I only care about Americans” and (b) saying “The government should only care about Americans,” and while (a) is definitely un-Christian, (b) might not be. Someone who believed the US government should help Americans and put near-zero weight on foreigners’ interests, but who thought Americans as individuals are obligated to be generous to foreigners as well, and who is personally very generous, would probably not imperil her soul much by her political attitude, even if she is mistaken.

Jesus taught a gospel of universal love, and as Christians we are told to conform to His will. Only thus can we be saved. The stuff we are made of is corrupt, impermanent, transient, poisoned by sin. He has become one of us and (this is a mystery) given us His own self as a substitute for our own fallen and dying selves. We must, ultimately, if we are not to perish, live up to that, and give ourselves completely to love without reservation or limit, for only then will we be able to rise to accept the gift of eternal life. Otherwise we are doomed to decay and disintegration. But let me turn to the Bible, and in particular to the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37, to make this clearer: Continue reading “Christianity vs. citizenism” »

“The Christian Perspective on Immigration”

I was struck by the beginning of this article published at the website of the anti-immigration group, Center for Immigration Studies:

What are They Thinking: A Look at the Roman Catholic “Doctrine” on Immigration

It takes little effort to notice and to conclude that the Roman Catholic Church has, in the past few years, intensified its lobbying on behalf of immigrants and thus has intensified its lobbying on behalf of “comprehensive immigration reform”.1 Indeed, it can be argued that “comprehensive immigration reform”, as envisioned by the Church and by those who stand in agreement with her, is designed primarily to benefit immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, more than it is designed to benefit the current national population.2

The Church’s lobbying stems from, dare I say, an erroneous application, in the political sphere, of the Christian perspective on immigration. The Christian perspective on immigration makes no distinction between legal and illegal. Actually, allow me to be more precise: the Christian perspective on immigrants makes no distinction between legal and illegal. The Christian perspective on immigrants makes no distinction between legal and illegal because the Christian perspective per se does not see “immigrant” but sees “child of God”.

St. Paul, in a letter to the Christian community in Galatia, dated somewhere between 50 and 58 AD, articulates well this deeper perspective: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” One could easily add: “neither legal immigrant nor illegal immigrant”.3 This is a properly Christian perspective, a faith perspective that considers each individual in the light of the One considered to be the God-man, Jesus Christ, beyond human categories. Edwin O’Brien, then-Archbishop of Baltimore, articulated this perspective in a letter4 about illegal immigrants dated July 16, 2008: “Dare we look at these human beings as made in the image and likeness of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ? Dare we look at them, in other words, with and through the eyes of Christ for whom no one is illegal, no one alien, no one a criminal who labors honestly to feed his family?”

Yet in spite of this, and of a lot of quotes illustrating the Church hierarchy’s fervor on the subject of immigration, the author of the article opposes the Catholic Church’s position. The author’s argument is difficult for me to follow, because some of it seems to rely on the reader to just dismiss the Roman Catholic view as absurd. I might do well to quote this paragraph, so that I don’t overstate the extent to which the Catholic Church agrees with me: Continue reading ““The Christian Perspective on Immigration”” »

The Old Testament on Immigration: Follow-Up

My post The Old Testament on Immigration was discussed at Reddit. Briefly. Here’s the initial comment:

This is filled with inaccuracies about OT law. One example:

“In walking through the grainfields (which were certainly not their own since Jesus was a traveling preacher), and picking heads of grain while they passed, Jesus and the apostles were doing what was allowed by the Law.”

The act of gathering on the Sabbath is explicitly forbidden in the OT. Numbers 15:32-26

OK, I admit the wording was an error here, and I’ve put an update in the original post to reflect that. What I meant, and I think it’s quite clear from the next sentence, is that what Jesus and the apostles were doing was allowed by the Law, except for the fact that they were doing it on the Sabbath. Of course, this particular “inaccuracy,” if that is what it is, has no bearing on the topic of the post. That people were allowed, under the old Law, not only to walk through one another’s grain fields, but even to pluck heads or pick fruit by hand while doing so, is a striking contrast with modern property law, and is relevant to immigration since it relates to issues about physical movement through land, and suggests (as do many other verses) that nothing comparable to modern immigration restrictions was or would have been countenanced by the Law of Moses. Sabbath regulations are quite a separate question.

I am tempted to say that if a reader who claims to have found “multiple inaccuracies” can offer nothing less trivial than this, he (or she) is bluffing, and I’m even more convinced of the argument of the post than I was before. But no, I shouldn’t go there. I’m not an expert in the Law of Moses, which I’ve found off-putting for much of my life. I’ve read the New Testament much more than the Old, despite its being so much shorter. My Old Testament post was based on some Google searching and reading chapter by chapter, here and there. I haven’t read the entire Mosaic Law from beginning to end, let alone studied it closely. So I could certainly be wrong, and would be grateful to anyone who can explain why. I would be glad to hear of the “multiple inaccuracies,” and to see if they would force me to modify my position, probably not on open borders per se, but on the Mosaic Law’s attitude to open borders. Certainly I have been given no reason to do so yet.

Someone else read the post and wrote to me about it privately. I hope he won’t mind my quoting his letter (if so, I’ll remove it, and I’ll leave him anonymous for now but will be glad to put his name if he wishes it):

[Removed, on second thought, for lack of permission from the person who wrote this to me.]

My reply:

Very interesting, thank you. I don’t know Hebrew and it’s possible that there’s just no way for me to get the exact shades of meaning, but I have read much of the Pentateuch in English translation (not all, I’m sorry to say, perhaps not even half, but a good deal). Could you point to any texts that make this clear? I did kind of get the sense of what you mention… that is, that resident foreigners were subject to the Law to the extent that they were like observant Jews… but there were some texts that seem to point the other way, for example:

Do not eat anything you find already dead. You may give it to the foreigner residing in any of your towns, and they may eat it, or you may sell it to any other foreigner. But you are a people holy to the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 14:21)

In this case, it seems clear that “the foreigner residing in any of your towns” are allowed to eat what observant Jews are not—which would make them, it seems, not the same as observant Jews. Or is this a different word for “foreigner” here, in the Hebrew? In that case, perhaps there are two statuses, say resident convert foreigner versus resident foreigner who just lives there because he lives there, and why not, and anyone by what right would you kick him out? I would also ask whether the term convert is anachronistic—or at least, whether what the word “convert” means to me, as a Christian, would be anachronistic as applied to Old Testament Judaism. The Jews of Old Testament times had a definite marker of who was “in” and who was “out”—circumcision—but by its nature that can only apply to females, so it’s not clear what it would mean in the story of Ruth. Anyway, very interesting, you’ve provoked me to take a closer look sometime.

Of course, the larger point is that this correspondent’s version of what the Mosaic Law claims doesn’t really undermine the case for open borders at all. Suppose the US were to implement a policy saying that anyone can come to the US, as long as they agree to abide by US laws and participate in national festivals like fireworks on the 4th of July. Surely that would qualify as advocating open borders! It seems to me, then, that ancient Israel did allow foreigners simply to enter without impediment, and they were not even completely bound by the rules of Israel, but there may have been some scope to convert to Judaism, a process akin to naturalization (though here I’m less sure). All the verses about “resident aliens” do seem to cross-apply directly to a modern case for open borders. Indeed, I don’t see how I can escape the conclusion that the Old Testament advocates an even stronger form of open borders than I do. And of course I only covered a small part of the Old Testament. Here’s another perhaps relevant passage:

2: 1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

2In the last days

the mountain  of the Lord’s temple will be established     as the highest of the mountains;it will be exalted  above the hills,     and all nations will stream to it.

3 Many peoples  will come and say,

“Come, let us go   up to the mountain   of the Lord,     to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways,     so that we may walk in his paths.” The law   will go out from Zion,     the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He will judge  between the nations     and will settle disputes  for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares     and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation,     nor will they train for war anymore.

5 Come, descendants of Jacob,     let us walk in the light  of the Lord. (Isaiah 2:1-5)

So the prophet Isaiah envisions a future in which “all nations will stream to” the mountain of the Lord, which seems to mean Jerusalem; many peoples are exhorting one another to go there, in order to walk in the ways of the Lord. Admittedly, this is a prophecy for a vaguely envisioned and distant future, but that doesn’t seem to help all that much. Isaiah clearly regards this as desirable. What would Isaiah’s attitude be towards a policy that, when the nations resolved to come to Israel and learn its ways, set up passport controls that prevented them from coming? Can there be any doubt that he would regard such a policy as intolerable?